Netflix UK TV review: Death to 2020
James R | On 30, Dec 2020
“2020: A year so [insert dire adjective of choice here], even the creators of Black Mirror couldn’t make it up.” That’s the tagline for Death to 2020, Charlie Brooker and Anabelle Jones’ Netflix comedy special looking back at the past 12 months – and while they raise the spectre of their dystopian tech anthology, the show that Death to 2020 brings to mind is another Brooker joint: News Wipe.
The Wipe series, which began with video games before jumping to TV and current events, ended up as a yearly recap on the Beeb, even including Antiviral Wipe this year, charting the first few months of the coronavirus outbreak – because if there’s one person 2020 deserves to have summarise it, it’s Charlie Brooker.
It’s hard, however, to find the funny in a year of such horrendous losses and trauma. BBC One’s topical sitcom Pandemonium does so by focusing primarily on a family’s efforts to stay together despite everything they’re facing. Death to 2020, tellingly, has to resort to inventing fictional pundits to provide the jokes as a sideshow to the somber main events.
It’s an approach that provides some strengths and wit to the format, but also immediately handicaps it. The comedy special sorely lacks Brooker’s withering sarcasm, which perhaps ran out of things to say about the largely cyclical nature of covidian life with Antiviral Wipe. However, it does allow the show to broaden its focus to worldwide happenings as well as UK-specific disasters.
And so we meet Samuel L Jackson, a world-weary reporter in New York, Hugh Grant as Tennyson Foss, a historian with a dinosaur’s worldview, Lisa Kudrow as a non-official US Republican Party spokesperson, Leslie Jones as a frustrated psychologist, Stranger Things’ Joe Keery as a narcissistic millennial, Kumail Nanjiani as Bark Multiverse, a combination of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, Cristin Milioti, a soccer mum who’s a Karen in all but name, Samson Kayo as Pyrex Flask, a scientist nobody listens to, Diane Morgan as a bewildered average citizen, and even Tracey Ullman as the Queen.
It’s a hit and miss gaggle of characters, and even from reading through the list above you can spot the lazy jokes that have been done before – a real problem when your fictional cutaways are meant to provide the light relief amid the real news footage. Hugh Grant is brilliant as the outdated wealthy white man, but never gets called out enough by his interviewer (voiced by Brooker) to land a killer punchline. Kumail Nanjiani is entertaining as a selfish tech billionaire but doesn’t say or highlight anything new. Leslie Jones’ commentary is disappointingly one-note. Diane Morgan’s deadpan is as excellent as always, and Cristin Milioti fares much better with her teeth-grating display of unthinking bigotry, while Lisa Kudrow is amusingly relentless in her need to control the media narrative.
But there’s little getting away from the fact that half of the script is observing things that have been said on Twitter many times before – for all the fictional character comedy that’s on offer, there are real life clips shared on social media that could illustrate a point as effectively. It’s revealing, perhaps, that the standout segments belong to Samson Kayo (of BBC Three’s fantastic Famalam), where the camera cuts away to other footage mid-interview – an inspired piece of satire not just of events and views but of the way that the media has covered them both throughout the year. More of those insightful observations would give Death to 2020 a sharper edge – as it is, it’s a more entertaining way to relive what’s happened this year than actually reliving it. Which, all things considered, is still something of an achievement.
Death to 2020 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.